It may be the newest track on the Formula 1 series calendar, but on Thursday Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas played host to a living history museum of over 500 racing automobiles. Drivers of the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association (SVRA) took to the circuit to try their hands at piloting older race cars on the state-of-the-art Formula 1 track. According to some of the racers taking to the track for the first time, the feat of getting familiar with the new course, especially in cars many of which are older than any current Formula 1 racer, is a task easier said than done.
A sunny Texas day greeted racers as they practiced ahead of the first-ever U.S. Vintage Racing National Championship scheduled for October 25-27. The event Friday through Sunday is open to the public.
Racers familiar with well-known older American tracks such as Watkins Glen International in upstate New York; Road America in Wisconsin; Mid-Ohio; Connecticut's Lime Rock Park, and others took to the 3.4-mile Texas circuit in cars of various vintages that many of them own themselves. While some of those cars saw race days in their own period on those same older tracks and return in historic races to show their stuff years later, none of them will be returning to old stomping grounds when they race this weekend on the new Formula 1 circuit. COTA opened last year and held its first-ever Formula 1 U.S. Grand Prix less than one year ago.
Talk on Thursday in the paddock and the Media Center, where time sheets could be picked up, ran the gamut from racers and racer-owners just thrilled to be driving their cars on this world-famous new circuit to those who were not, to put it mildly, having their best day in a race car.
Vintage racers Rochester Motorsports spoke with called the circuit "technical." Some said they would need many more laps than they can expect to have in one weekend to really get the feel of it. Others admitted their cars provide additional challenges, since they have little downforce, or at least not the same downforce, or lack any one of the other newer technologies that the current Formula 1 race cars have.
It must be remembered that this track was built specifically for today's Formula 1 series. Even Formula 1 cars of decades earlier, while at the height of racing technology in their day, may be at a disadvantage on this track. Formula Fords, on the other hand, said one racer, might actually do fairly well on the track, due to the many turns and resulting measured speeds.
While SVRA "gold helmets" will be awarded to champions this weekend, most of the historic/vintage racers are simply glad to have the opportunity to race on a track where, next month, many will watch in person or on TV their favorite Formula 1 drivers race state-of-the-art race cars.
Friday's schedule includes qualifying races for well over 500 cars making up 13 racing groups. Qualifying races and feature races take place on Saturday, and Sunday will feature a 90-minute Historic GT/GTP Enduro and other feature races.
Spectator tickets for Friday through Sunday are available from Circuit of the Americas for the U.S. Vintage National Championship this weekend. For more information, see the COTA website. The second Formula 1 U.S. Grand Prix at COTA will be held November 15-17.
For more information on SVRA historic/vintage racing and its events, check out SVRA at their site.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Connie Ann Kirk, Ph.D. is the author of several books and is currently working on a new book about racing and racers with a historic racer from upstate New York. See Connie's blog about the sport at "Motor Sport Muse."